We’re fortunate to have such a variety of mountain bike trails in South Africa. From inner-city mountain bike parks to remote wilderness trails, from free-to-ride trails on public land to privately owned mountain biking gems. Since we launched TREAD in 2009, our crew has ridden most of South Africa’s mountain bike trails. Here’s a look at Number 5, another Winelands region trails network, in our TREAD Top Trails of 2020.
Hard to beat Boschendal’s trails for scenic beauty. | Photo: Stillwater Sport/Tobias Ginsberg
Banhoek Conservancy – No. 5
Location: Franschhoek, Western Cape
Best suited for: Beginner, Intermediate and Experienced riders.
What we love about it: It wasn’t too long ago that there were no established mountain bike trails in the Franschhoek area. But that’s changed completely and it’s now home to one of the finest mountain bike trails networks in the country.
There’s a junction between Stellenbosch (our No. 5 trails network) via Bothmaskop, which brings you over into the Banhoek Valley via a piece of bushy singletrack. But, once you’re near the summit, its incredibly scenic as you gain elevation and are able to take in the surrounding mountains. The descent into the Banhoek Valley is via the Skyfall descent, a switchback masterpiece that’s longer than you expect, but at the same time, over too soon.
The trails from there form the Banhoek Conservancy network, which offers mostly purpose-build singletrack trails that deliver a combination of speed, flow and challenges, eventually dropping you out at the tar road near Pniel.
A few kilometres down that same tar road is the entrance to Boschendal, one of the oldest wine estates in the country and now a mountain biker’s haven. The trails network at Boschendal is expansive and incorporates the slopes of the Simonsberg. It caters for all levels of rider and includes a fair dollop of gradient if you’re an intermediate or experienced rider.
Overall, the Banhoek Conservancy Trails Network includes the Banhoek Valley and Boschendal. You buy your trail permits for Banhoek’s trails at Boschendal or via the Zapper payment option on the website: https://banhoekconservancy.org
The trails are used for premium annual mountain bike events, such as the Savanna Origin of Trails and the Fedhealth MTB Challenge.
This bit of jeep track in the Banhoek Valley is where you take a deep breath before hitting some of the most sublime singletrack there is! | Photo: Sean Badenhorst
Signage: The signage at Boschendal is good, but the directional signage on the Banhoek trails is relatively small, so you only really see it when you’re quite close to it.
Grading: As with many South African trails, the trails aren’t graded according to IMBA’s skill level grading system. You can, however, find the Boschendal trails on Trailforks https://www.trailforks.com/region/boschendal-wine-farm-21770/and the Banhoek trails on Tralforks https://www.trailforks.com/region/banhoek-conservancy-trails-26521/ where they are rated either Blue or Green.
At Boschendal, there are five marked mountain bike trails, all starting at the Rhodes Avenue gate:
Black 23km + (Black XL – extensions of Black)
The Banhoek Conservancy Trails are less structured in terms of a specific loop or distance, but there are a few rider-created loops worth tackling here (click on the ‘Routes’ tab): https://banhoekconservancy.org/trails-info/
In Franschoek, you are surrounded by mountains. | Photo: Stillwater Sport/Tobias Ginsberg
Off the bike: In recent years, Boschendal has become a multi-function venue, which includes restaurants, picnics under the beautiful old trees, horse-riding, wine-tasting and farm tours. There’s also a pump track and play area which are very popular with kids. The accommodation there is impressive and worth booking for a couple of nights so that you can really experience the trails without rushing.
Summary: It’s hard to describe the beauty of riding mountain bikes here. You are surrounded by majestic mountains which alter the horizon to almost a work of art in any direction you ride. The ascents aren’t just a way of getting up, they’re thoughtfully built to make the climbs engaging, while the descents are longer than you expect, which is always a bonus. Always!
Cost: There’s a R50 day rate to ride the trails with both Banhoek and Boschendal offering annual permits too.
Security rating: 4/5
The Skyfall descent is a piece of mountain bike trail art… | Photo: Stillwater Sport/Tobias Ginsberg
Note: The TREAD TOP TRAILS 2020 feature is subjective. If you feel we are missing great trails from our top 15, please email Sean Badenhorst on email@example.com with your suggestions.
Here’s our TREAD Top 15 Trails countdown so far:
Number 14 The Spruit, Randburg/Sandton, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-2/
Number 13: Tokai, Cape Town, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-3/
Number 12: Cradle Moon, Johannesburg, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-12/
Number 11: Buffelsdrift, Pretoria, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-11/
Number 10: Northern Farm, Johannesburg, Gauteng http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-10/
Number 9: Holla Trails, Ballito, KwaZulu-Natal http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-9/
Number 8: Giba Gorge MTB Park, Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-8/
Number 7: Paul Cluver & Oak Valley, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-7/
Number 6: Stellenbosch, Western Cape http://www.treadmtb.co.za/tread-top-trails-2020-number-6/